There's no "download now" option for weight loss. Whether you're looking to lose three or 30 pounds, now is as good of a time as any to get honest about setting a realistic goal weight.
Maybe you want to fit into a pair of jeans from high school or have bigger weight loss goals that revolve around better health benchmarks, like walking up a flight of stairs without losing your breath. Regardless, take comfort in the fact that you're not alone in your quest to shed pounds. An estimated 49 percent of American adults tried losing weight during between 2013 and 2016, according to one Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) survey.
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Having a ball park goal weight in mind can help set standards from the get-go.
How Do You Set a Smart Goal?
Before you start on any weight loss journey, it's important to consult with a physician to talk about what you're hoping to accomplish. This conversation can help you identify smart goals and a manageable strategy.
"Prior to setting goals, I would want people to understand that rapid weight loss often doesn't lead to sustained weight loss," says Rekha Kumar, MD, an endocrinologist at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine. "If you rapidly lose weight, you tend to lose muscle mass and that drops metabolism and predisposes you for weight regain."
While it's natural to have high hopes for quick, immediate weight loss, it's important to be realistic. Most successes start between 12 to 16 weeks, says registered dietician Avigdor Arad, PhD, Director of Mount Sinai's PhysioLab. "Think about the last time that you were at your goal weight," he says. "If that was never after age of 18, then it's going to be extremely difficult. If you've never attained that weight, it's going to be even more difficult."
Start by aiming to lose about 5 percent of your body weight within that 12- to 16-week time period, suggests Arad. This modest weight loss goal can improve your health by leaps and bounds. According to a February 2016 study published in Cell Membrane, patients who lost 5 percent body weight had a lower risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease and improved metabolic function in fat and muscle tissue.
That small weight loss can also help you gain confidence in your ability to make positive change. "Once you've lost the first 5 percent, focus on what has been working to amplify efforts, then work up from there."
Getting Started With Weight Loss
Now that you've worked with an expert to set a smart goal, you're onto the brunt of the effort. Putting in the work can feel overwhelming. Here, experts weigh in on best-practices to lose weight.
1. Change Your Mindset
Your mind is a powerful tool that can help get you to where you want to be. When 30-year-old Claire Rock — now down 75 pounds over a three-year period — started losing weight, she needed to get her mind right. She needed to get to a place where she was being more realistic about her goals.
"All I wanted was to be normal," she says. "My trainer and I focused on getting into a normal range for body fat percentage, so that was my goal."
When Rock shifted her mindset from "I have so much to do" to "I just want to be healthier," she was able to home in on best-practices that worked for her. Through discovering what strength training methods worked for her body and learning the value of nutrition, she found success.
Read more: 12 Free Ways to Improve Your Mental Wellbeing
"I knew going in the why: I wanted to be healthy and change the legacy of my family," she says. "I knew that I couldn't do it in my own knowledge and strength so I hired a professional to show me how to exercise in a way that would make me strong for life — not just skinny today."
2. Assess Your Body
It's important to take inventory of your current health and lifestyle behaviors and analyze how they might impact your weight loss potential. By identifying your current habits, you can determine where things may need to shift in order for success to occur, says Arad.
"The first step in what we are trying to do is recognize the why," says Arad. Factors such as genetics, bone density, age, medications, hormone levels and past health conditions — such as diabetes — can be used as a road map for picking a healthy (and attainable) weight loss goal, he says.
3. Become a Student Again
There's no "the dog ate my homework excuse" when it comes to weight loss. Be diligent with your research and outreach to learn more about starting a new fitness routine or what exactly is considered a "healthy" meal. Some don't know what cardio or strength training is or they think that vitamins and minerals will add calories to their meals, says Arad.
Read more: Discover Your Ultimate Weight-Loss Workout Plan
If you're just getting started, working with a certified nutritionist or trainer can be a total game-changer. If you already have some experience with healthier eating habits, Arad suggests tapping into the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) website to brush up on any hard facts about your diet.
4. Don't Be Too Hard on Yourself
Find harmony in your approach and don't beat yourself down if things don't go according to plan. "For a long time, I was unwilling to budge on any part of the diet and that was a detriment," says John Mallick, now down 40 pounds and a four-time marathoner. "But, moderation won't derail anything. It's just fine to have ice cream or pizza once a week to just keep yourself sane."